Sacramento was one of 12 cities to submit a formal application for an MLS expansion team yesterday, but they did so under mysterious circumstances. The city’s highly successful USL Pro side Sacramento Republic FC was suspiciously absent from the bid, which was handed in by a former Kevin Johnson PR stooge. As of last night, it wasn’t exactly clear what had happened, but all signs pointed to a coup by the team’s ownership group (which now includes Meg Whitman) to wrest control of the city’s team from its founders and freeze them out of an MLS-sized payday. Today, there are more answers, but what should have been a slam dunk of a bid is no less of a horrifying clusterfuck.
The club released a bewildering statement this morning, in which they expressed their surprise at reports that majority owner Kevin Nagle had omitted them from the bid. It’s a very indirect statement that addresses the rumors of a takeover without giving any answers as to what exactly happened, but it looks like they were blindsided, and promised to “take this up with the appropriate parties immediately.”
Nagle, friend of and donor to Kevin Johnson, was the public face of the bid yesterday, talking to local media outlets and receiving congratulations from Sacramento’s mayor. He confirmed to the Sacramento Bee this morning that the bid he submitted was under the name “Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings,” which has no affiliation with SRFC. He said that he was in negotiations with SRFC founder and president Warren Smith to purchase the SRFC name and brand.
What makes this more interesting is that Nagle reportedly is not the controlling owner of SRFC.
What should have been an easy win for Sacramento has turned into a hostage negotiation, where Nagle needs SRFC’s brand for his bid to have any scrap of legitimacy. He has the leverage of a wealthy ownership group full of heavy hitters, but Smith has the team and tens of thousands of fans. Nagle could very well have his bid accepted and fans would still probably show up to watch Sacramento United Incorporated FC or whatever, but he obviously wants the Republic to be the city’s MLS team. He’s going to have to pay up for that to happen, and Smith can (and should) demand a hefty blood price after Nagle pulled the rug out from under him.
They may very well resolve their squabbles and reach an agreement for Nagle, Whitman, and whoever else they’re working with (reportedly Kevin Johnson himself) but as Taylor Twellman notes, a fractured ownership group and a fan base on the brink of revolt push Sacramento down the pecking order of cities receiving an expansion franchise, and MLS in Sacramento is no longer a sure thing.